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Saturday, February 21, 2015

The end to peace in Mindanao?

IT is not surprising that Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr.’s enthusiasm for the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law had diminished because of the encounter between the MILF and the Special Action Force (SAF) of the Philippine National Police that resulted in the killing of 44 police commandos.

Belmonte says that, after the incident, he is no longer confident that the BBL would be passed on the target date set by the ad hoc committee, led by Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez

“I think this is not the best time to vote on [the BBL].”

Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. agrees that a cooling off period is needed.

“There is still too much heat,” Marcos said.

“The people are mad, so there must be a cooling off period for the BBL to have hope.”

In Malacañang, Communications secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. insists the administration will continue to push for the approval of the BBL despite the Mamasapano incident.

He said the bid for the BBL’s approval was not political in nature but for the achievement of lasting peace.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said while the passage of the BBL was stalled, Turkey and Indonesia had joined other countries in support of the peace process in Mindanao.

Australia, Canada, Libya, Norway, Russia, Spain, Switzerland and the United States had also expressed their support for the Philippine government’s efforts to achieve lasting peace in Mindanao. 

Belmonte said the House leadership was “still in the mood” to tackle the BBL once the board of inquiry concludes its investigation of the Mamasapano fiasco.

Belmonte says that the BBL could still be tackled and passed when Congress resumes its session in May.

But as the board of inquiry had yet to conclude its probe into the incident, Belmonte said, he believed now was not the best time for lawmakers to vote on the Bangsamoro bill because of the strong public sentiment about the Mamasapano incident.

“I told Rufus [Rodriguez, head of the ad hoc panel on BBL], ‘It’s not a good time to bring the BBL out there [plenary].’ I don’t think they’re all very enthusiastic about it at this stage until we find out more about the incident.”

House Deputy Speaker and Isabela Rep. Giorgidi Aggabao, an administration ally, said the Mamasapano incident would adversely affect President Aquino III’s anointed one in 2016.

Aggabao, a stalwart of the Nationalist People’s Coalition, the second largest political party in the country and the major coalition partner of the ruling Liberal Party in the House of Representatives, said the party believed that the whoever would be endorsed by the president as the administration’s standard-bearer would not likely get popular support from the Filipino people.

“Before Mamasapano, our perception is that whoever is chosen by the President...will have a very distinct advantage whoever is supported by the President. But with this the party perception may somehow dim a bit even the popularity of the President,” says Aggabao.

This developed as Aggabao said the proposed BBL had acquired a local face as many lawmakers, particularly from the Northern part of the country, had been asked by their constituents on the ‘parameters’ of the BBL once the autonomy is granted to the secessionist rebels.

“We have always treated the BBL as a deal that is far removed from my constituents na I come from a district that is you know in the North, that we lost 3, in the Mamasapano incident... we lost 3 from Isabela. So now all of a sudden the BBL has acquired a local face and people are asking kamusta na daw iyong BBL? Kamusta ba ang tayo natin diyan?” Aggabao said.

He also admitted that NPC members were divided on the BBL.

“Our party was in favor of the BBL prior to the Mamasapano incident. But after that happened, we called for our members to give their side in a caucus. I suggested coming out with a resolution expressing our solidarity with the nation and the bereaved families. Some others said we should go beyond that and ask for a suspension on BBL hearings,” Aggabao said.

Aggabao added many of their members “were frothing in the mouth in outrage over what happened in Mamasapano.”

***

A female Muslim lawmaker was a rare voice for peace in the rising beat of war drums in the House of Representatives.

The tense atmosphere has become more heated by a police official’s appeal for vengeance and by the emergence of a six-minute video showing the Moro rebels’ brutality.

Maguindanao Rep. Bai Sandra Sema was in tears when she appealed for sobriety in a raucous room of lawmakers, military and police officials, government officials, and local government executives pumped up by an emotional speech by Deputy
Director General Leonardo Espina, officer in charge of the Philippine National Police.

“Our emotions are high. I saw Espina and (relieved Special Action Force [SAF] Director Getulio) Napeñas cry and hug each other. But more than these emotions, more than grandstanding, it is the lives of the people in the Bangsamoro area that are at stake,” said Sema, wife of former Cotabato City Mayor Muslimin Sema, chair of one of the factions of the Moro National Liberation Front.

Sema expressed concern that with the Senate and the House suspending public hearings on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), the peace pact with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) was in danger of collapsing.

 “So that lives of police, military and others will be spared, may we ask for a reconsideration,” Sema said after the House committees on public order and safety and peace, reconciliation and unity debated on whether to show the clip of the alleged brutality that wounded SAF members suffered at the hands of MILF fighters on Jan. 25.

Muntinlupa Rep. Rodolfo Biazon, a former general, also cautioned the committee against playing with the “emotions of many people” by showing the cruel acts on the video.

Davao Rep. Karlo Alexie B. Nograles said he wanted the video shown because he did not want the House to be accused of covering up.

But Lanao del Sur Rep. Pangalian Balindon said showing the video could set a precedent in all House hearings.

Quezon City Rep. Jose Christopher Belmonte said the House would make a mistake by showing the video whose contents have yet to be authenticated.

The committee later agreed not to show the video but asked Napeñas to confirm if the man shot as shown in the video was indeed a SAF commando.

In Mindanao, an Italian priest also appealed to those lobbying for “total war” in Mindanao to stop pushing for that path in light of the recent clashes between Moro rebels and government forces in Mamasapano.

“As a Christian priest I want to ask forgiveness for the voices calling for total war in Mindanao, coming often from Christian sectors and politicians,” said Fr. Sebastiano D’Ambra, PIME, founder of Silsilah Dialogue Movement.

“What will happen if there will be war in Mindanao again? What will happen if this war will give more space to international terrorists who justify their violence through ideologies that already are circulating in our midst?” the priest said in a statement posted on the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines website.

In the wake of the Mamasapano incident, lawmakers suspended hearings on the proposed BBL, a key component of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro that the government and the MILF signed last year, putting the deal under a cloud of uncertainty.

The lawmakers said the proposed law seeking to create a new autonomous government for Muslims in Mindanao, to be known as the Bangsamoro, would not pass if put to a vote now because emotions were running high after Mamasapano, where 44 police commandos died.

Before the Mamasapano debacle, lawmakers had promised to enact the BBL in March and to hold a referendum in May.

The MILF says that it will not accept a watered-down version of the BBL.

In the wake of Congress’ decision to defer action on the BBL that would move forward the Mindanao peace process, more countries are prodding the Philippines to continue with the peace process and the fight against terrorism.

Among these countries was Norway where Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario was on a two-day visit to thank its leaders for their firm support for the peace process and to discuss cooperation between the two countries in peace mediation, maritime affairs, disaster risk reduction and management, and trade and investment.

The latest countries to send messages and statements to the Department of Foreign Affairs were Russia, Palau, Libya and Norway.

Earlier, there were similar messages of support for the peace process from Australia, Canada, Spain Switzerland and the United States.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende lauded government and MILF efforts to keep the peace process intact as he warned that “armed conflict is a serious threat to development and has negative consequences far beyond the actual battlefield.”

“A lasting settlement in Mindanao would benefit the entire population of the Philippines,” Brende said.

Norway is a member of the International Monitoring Team for the government-MILF peace talks and serves as vice chair of the Independent Decommissioning Body that oversees the decommissioning process of MILF forces and arms.

Russian Ambassador to the Philippines Nikolay Yudashev expressed shock and grief over the killing of 44 police commandos.

“Memory of their valor and self-sacrifice shown while pursuing a noble mission of fighting terrors will remain in our heart,” the Russian ambassador said.

Through its embassy in Manila, Palau said it had “unwavering support and solidarity with the Philippines in condemning such heinous acts of terrorism against government security personnel.”

Libya through Charge d’ Affaires Abobaker I.W Ataweel of the Libyan Embassy told Del Rosario that the country hoped that Filipinos would “triumph over this tragic incident and continue the pursuit to attain peace in Mindanao.”

D’Ambra said the World Interfaith Harmony Week became a fitting reminder for people to unite against ideologies of violence and war.

With the tension rising in Mindanao, D’Ambra described the fear among Christians and Muslims alike. “While Christians are leaving places more populated by the Muslims in Mindanao, Muslims also feel suspicious being in cities populated mostly by Christians.”

“I appeal especially to religious leaders, both Muslims and Christians. We have a big responsibility. I advice the Muslim leaders to be more active in promoting the concept of mercy and compassion, the central message of Islam, and to the Christians to recall the central message that is love,” he added.

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